Hong Kong has a somewhat maligned reputation amongst backpackers, mostly dissuaded from a visit by stories of the city plunging its hands into your pockets and emptying it out. It’s true if you’re fresh from Thailand or Vietnam, Hong Kong isn’t cheap, but nor does it need to make a mess of your bank account. There is plenty to do for free, from beaches and hikes to temples and museums, and you can get your hands on some of the best food in Asia for just a few dollars.
While there isn’t much a backpacking scene in Hong Kong, there are plenty of guesthouses and a growing list of better quality hostels. It’s a fascinating city to explore for a few days and extremely well-connected for further travel into China and Asia.
How to Get Your Backpack to Hong Kong
One of the major benefits of Hong Kong is just how easy it is to get here and the low price of the flights. This is the biggest hubs of air travel in Asia, with competitive rates to long-distance destinations like London, Sydney, and New York as well as some of the best fares around for regional flights.
Hong Kong is a very compact city with an excellent transport system so it’s also easy to see a lot quickly. In four days you cover just about everything the city has to offer, while seven days will give you time to explore the lush greenery of the New Territories and the beaches of the Outlying Islands.
Where to Find Cheap Accommodation
The real danger to your budget is the price of accommodation, with rates similar to Tokyo, London, and New York. The cheapest budget hotels in Hong Kong will be asking for upwards of $80 a night and even a dorm bed inside the YMCA costs close to $50.
The cheaper option is a Hong Kong guesthouse. Here dorm rooms start at closer to $20, although you should be under no illusion as to what you’re signing yourself up for: often cell-like rooms with no air conditioning and in some cases no window. Tales of having to unpack from outside because there isn’t enough room inside are not always exaggerations.
The city’s guesthouse and hostel hotspot remains Chungking Mansions. This decrepit old building is daunting to look at from the outside and no princess on the inside, but it’s a reliable location for the cheapest accommodation in town and a good place to run into local backpackers.
Where to Find Cheap Food
Everywhere! Hong Kong has some of the best Cantonese and Chinese food in the world, and much of it is best enjoyed in bare-bones canteens and from street carts. You can get a plate of delicious char siu and a pile of rice for around $5 from any corner diner. Some of the city’s street food can be had for even less.
If you want to enjoy western food, you can expect to pay upwards of $15, while beers from bars in Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai will set you back around $10.
Like many Asian cities, Hong Kong is best experienced rather than seen. There are museums and art galleries, but Hong Kong’s star attractions are its bustling streets, frenetic markets, and bright temples. Of course, there is also the spectacular skyline. All of this can be experienced free.
There are also some fantastic cultural experiences that can be done on the cheap, like a junk ride.